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How Many Rights Must A Journalist Give Up

by on October 20, 2015

We learn of the journalist’s responsibility to the people and their expectation to always put the public’s interest first. Journalists must be the voice for society and it is their job to seek the truth and to report fully. Journalists are constantly playing an advocate for the people, often creating a loss in their own views and thoughts with their obligation to neutrality. Who protects the journalist’s rights? Sure there are legal statements that protect the freedom of speech and the insurance of civil rights. The freedom of the press protects journalists in discussing and criticizing authorities and private domains. Though, journalists are taught that they must give up their standpoints in order to remain fair and neutral. In the case study, “Reigning on the Parade” of the SPJ Codes of Ethics, the writers question “How many rights must journalists give up when they accept the idea that they should be detached observers?” (SPJ Codes of Ethics. Brown, Young).

To remain fully neutral journalist must detach themselves from their stories. If having prior thought or shaped belief on their assignments, must the journalist decline to report the story? Should Journalists report on stories that are personal to them? For example, when an African American journalist reports on the coverage of race in mainstream media, or if a white male journalist reports on how the media is doing a fine job in diversifying media. These are examples that are drawn from another one of my courses but they raise this issue on who can tell the story without being seen as having a bias. White males predominantly run the media, should a white, male journalist in the media discuss this topic?

In “Journalists Ethic Codes” on Ethic Net, it is stated that, “Journalists should avoid publishing critical materials based on the facts of their personal biography, because it may produce an impression of them trying to settle accounts”(“Journalists Ethic Codes”). I read a case study in the SPJ Codes of Ethics that discussed how a bisexual journalist took part in a gay rights parade and the newspaper that he worked for suspended him, without pay for being apart of the movement. An editor of the paper said that the participation was a violation of the paper’s ethics policy. The paper feared that the journalists biases would compromise the newspaper’s credibility. Many saw the journalist’s role in the parade as a political statement and that he was trying to promote same-sex marriage. In reality, this was not the journalist’s intentions but because of his personal identification, he was accused of “trying to settle accounts”.

The SPJ Codes of Ethics brings up the argument “If a political reporter can cheer for the hometown team, should a sports reporter be able to back a political candidate?” (SPJ Codes of Ethics. Brown, Young). This identifying with one’s beliefs as a journalist is reiterated through this quote. Journalists are expected to never reveal any biases, including those that are out of their reporting realm. In an interview with Neal Conan on New England Public Radio in 2011, a journalist was asked about his cheering in the press box at the Daytona 500. Conan questions if it is ever right for any journalist to cheer for sports, politics or business. This journalist, Tom Bowles, was fired after the incident and still believes he didn’t do any harm. He believes his reaction was natural and was just a response to the making of history as the youngest driver to ever win the Daytona 500 in 2011. Though the reporter was merely responding to history it was still seen as a threat to the reputation of the news station and a possible compromise of their credibility. I think this case and the journalist who helped coordinate the gay pride parade, are differing examples. I think the journalist at the parade should have the right to remove himself from his work and have a social life outside of that realm. In the case of the journalist in the press box of the Daytona 500, the journalist must understand their responsibilities as a journalist in a work setting. Even if what he meant by his actions did not match what these actions were viewed as, the journalist must understand the possible consequences of his actions while on the job.

I argue that every journalist has a predetermined view on the story that they are going to report on. Journalists, as every day people grow up with experiences that shape their beliefs on the world around them. They grow up with social influences that shape their hobbies and their favors in sports, music, politics, foods, and a wide variety of traits that make up their values and morals. I do not believe that a writer can ever really remove themselves from their work. I think it is the journalist’s right, as the right of anyone, to value where they stand on all topics and to protect their right to having the freedom to choice what they deem important. I do not believe that journalists must give up rights to their opinions and their values. I am against a news company telling their journalists that they are permitted from certain activities to protect the face of their business, as the example brought up b the SPJ Codes of Ethics. I think there is a remove that journalists must make from their work, though they should not have to alter their personal life to be accepted in their workplace setting.

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One Comment
  1. I agree with you that a journalist is the same as any other person and deserves to be treated that way. For example, if a journalist lost a loved one to cancer, they should be able to donate to a cancer organization without being told it was out of line and proving favoritism to a certain organization. They should not be suspended or told they were in the wrong. These instances are unavoidable, and actively avoiding them would make a journalist inhuman. No matter how extreme this sounds, you should be able to be a human first and a journalist second. Another example is that of the bisexual journalist who took part in a gay rights parade, which you mentioned. I think it was more unethical for the editor to suspend him than for him to have been apart of the movement. Being bisexual was apart of his identity and he should be able to show that. He did not do it with bias intentions or gains in his career. There are definitely cases when conflict of interest are more obvious and detrimental, but in this case I do not think that this would interfere with his work as a journalist.

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